Starting Life Over Again in a Foreign Country

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on November 20, 2018 2:21 pm

Tags: Berkeley, Friday Morning Coffee, International Partner, International Spouses, Transitions, UC Berkeley, Yvonne Lefort

By Jolanda Heijnen

Jolanda is an international spouse from the Netherlands. She followed her husband who is doing a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Before moving to Berkeley, Jolanda worked at one of Europe’s largest steel manufacturers as a Product- and Process Technologist, combining aspects of data science and data analytics.

Here she talks about her transition of moving to Berkeley and the support she received from attending the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

As I’m writing this story on the 7th of November, I just realized I missed the year mark of my arrival here. On the 6th of November last year (2017), I arrived in the USA. In the first few months after arrival, I would have given you totally different expectations of this international adventure than I’ll give you now, in hindsight based on experience. It’s not over yet, but the difficult initial struggle is over. Though this was harder than anticipated, I don’t regret it at all, and I think I’ve personally learned more than I would have, had it gone according to expectation. Yvonne’s weekly Friday Morning Coffee at Caffe Strada has been a huge positive contribution to this.

My husband started his Postdoc in August last year, after backpacking around South America. At that time, we had been living apart for about two years due to necessity after having been together for nine years, and before that, we lived together for six years. It was about time we started living together again. In November, I joined my husband, after quitting a good job with nice colleagues just a week before departure, and lots of stress related to finishing my job, packing and moving out. In the first month, my youngest sister, who happens to be called Yvonne as well, accompanied me and we spent a lot of time together. We got to do the touristic stuff, mostly using public transport. For example, we visited Pier 39 and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, and we rented a car to see the Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz.

Within a few weeks after she left in the beginning of December, reality hit me: I was extremely bored. I no longer had a job, and my main hobbies in the Netherlands were either too expensive being on a budget (a common issue for many in the Bay Area) or hard to get in contact with people to start (i.e. playing bridge). Later I found out that UC Berkeley students were about to go away for the holidays, and the other bridge club required more patience. While still processing quitting my job, and officially becoming a dependent spouse (the requirement for my visa type), I struggled to find things to do.

Cleaning isn’t really my thing. I see it more as an annoying necessity, and also cooking more elaborately starts to get boring when there’s plenty of time to do that every day. In order to find something to do, I decided to try and improve my English writing, focusing on improving writing structure, something I generally struggle with. I’m hoping you’re able to notice a difference. If not, just imagine what it was like before!

Luckily, I had lots of support from friends and family back home through frequent Skype calls, and from my husband here. He arranged for a few meetings with other international couples for the evenings. In one of these meetings, a spouse, working at that time, mentioned the support she got from the Friday Morning Coffee group before getting a work permit. Friday Morning Coffee is not advertised clearly, unfortunately, as UC Berkeley does not promote it. Referrals to the group are often by word of mouth. I’m attempting to send in anyone who I think might benefit. I’m also hoping this piece might help contribute to getting the word out.

Friday Morning Coffee, promoted through the Facebook group Creating a Fulfilling Life in America, consists of a group of international visitors, many with links to UC Berkeley or the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Most are spouses or partners of postdocs and scholars, or graduate students. Some are long-term residents by now. Many in the group are, or were, in a similar situation: either waiting on a work permit, being ineligible for a work permit at all, starting or raising a family, or a combination of those. For most attendants, it is a good excuse to get out of the house and talk to people, reduce loneliness and learn from each other. Here I met others in similar situations and was able to put my own situation into perspective.

Yvonne founded these weekly meetings and is like the glue keeping it together. She suggests local activities, highlights interesting topics as they come up, and the different cultural approaches to a certain situation. She also held a potluck-style gathering in her garden in the summer and arranged for pumpkin carving for Halloween. She sometimes brings interesting books, or even children’s tales to help people learn about American culture. A few months ago, she brought a book called the “Little Engine That Could,” representing American values taught to children. Since then, I’ve seen and heard it been referenced on several occasions, one of which was an episode of the Big Bang Theory.

Friday morning conversations, infused with some pointed advice, helped me fight through this initial difficult period and appreciate, and eventually start enjoying, my time in the Bay Area. Right now, I think both my husband and I have developed a stronger bond, and I have become mentally more resilient by learning to occasionally let go.

After a few months, my work permit got approved, and though I worked part-time, I worked on Fridays, and therefore did not get to attend these meetings for a while. To me this was the biggest disadvantage of working: I wasn’t able to attend these meetings regularly anymore. Being off on Fridays was not an option due to scheduling problems, though. After a few months, my work permit had to be renewed, and the process started over again. This means I was attending Friday Morning Coffee for a few months again, until I got the new work permit.

A word of caution depending on your cultural background: Friday Morning Coffee is said to start at 11:00 a.m. but generally starts somewhat after 11:00, more like 11:15 or so. (As I’m Dutch, I showed up exactly at, or even slightly before, 11 a.m. the first time, and didn’t see anyone.)

P.S.  If you’re considering joining: Yvonne usually brings a small sign that says “Friday Morning Coffee” and puts it on the table to help newcomers recognize the group. If you don’t see the sign (sometime Yvonne forgets it), look for a group of women (occasionally there are men in the group) and ask if they’re part of the Friday Morning Coffee. Also, be sure you join the Facebook group Creating A Fulfilling Life in America as Yvonne posts a reminder about the Friday Morning Coffee as well as lots of other good information!

A Week of Spouses and People

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on November 3, 2015 10:15 pm

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By Rumela Lahiri

Rumela is an international spouse from India who just arrived in Berkeley. She is following her husband who is doing a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Rumela has a  Master’s degree in Communication Studies and, before accompanying her husband to Berkeley, taught Communication at a college in India for 3 years.

Here she talks about her first time at the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

rumela“Do you like meeting new people?” I am sure all of you have at least once or twice faced this question. Well I am no exception to this rule. But unlike many of you I never answered this because I never knew what to say. I have rarely met “New People,” and all the “New People” I have met in my home country (India) were the people whom somehow I always knew. But it is past. Now I have an answer. Yes I like meeting new people, thank you very much. And the person who made me realize this, is Yvonne Lefort.

A week ago this name would not have meant anything to me (though it would have sounded a bit different from the random names) but now it has become a symbol of solace. She arranges a group meeting (among many other activities) known as Friday Morning Coffee for people who are new in Berkeley without any friends. This group mostly consists of spouses whose husbands are connected to UC Berkeley. Being a university town, Berkeley has got its fare share of foreign students, visiting scholars and post docs. Many of them come to the United States accompanied by their families. When the husbands become busy in their academic and professional duties, most of the spouses start feeling domesticated and lonely, which leads to depression. Hence, there is no way the problem of the spouses can be taken lightly. Moreover, it also affects their partners and kids adversely.

Yvonne, having spent her early life in Germany for a couple of years, has witnessed the same thing that a lot of the spouses of UCB people go through. It encouraged her to design the course “CREATING A FULFILLING LIFE IN AMERICA,” taught by her only at UC Berkeley. But it was not enough to cover all the people who wanted to enroll in her classes as there is a seat limit. To counter that crisis Yvonne managed another solution: Friday Morning Coffee at Caffe Strada. It is a gathering of spouses of foreign people in Berkeley that provides a wide scope of networking to overcome the unhappiness of a lonely life. The two-hour coffee sipping also results in a unique friendship of diversities.

My first day in the coffee meeting was a week ago. I waited a bit before entering. I was waiting to see if I could identify anyone from the the photos of the meeting which I found on Facebook. So, after wasting ten to fifteen minutes I found myself inside the cafe looking for a bunch of women whom I have never seen ever. There were a few scattered small groups here and there crowding the cafe. My morning group was nowhere to be seen. Then I walked towards the outdoor tables of the cafe. At that moment my face must have been a mixture of confusion, coyness and inquiry because suddenly I saw Yvonne Lefort smiling to me as if she knew I was looking for her. Well, I was looking for her. She was surrounded by a group of women. They welcomed me to the clan. Since then I have not only met delightful ladies from around the globe but also have experienced a series of heartwarming generic discussions including a fine dinner at another place with my new found friends and of course, my first ever Halloween party. If all these can happen in a week, I wonder what can be achieved over the length of my stay in Berkeley….

 

My Support Group

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on June 9, 2014 8:03 pm

Tags: Berkeley, Friday Morning Coffee, International Partner, International Spouses, Yvonne Lefort

By Ruth Weinhold-Heße

Ruth is a journalist and an international spouse from Germany who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. Here she talks about the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

Friday mornings, my mood generally is in the pits: getting up early, the long week, trying to convince my 2-year old for the fifth time in a row to leave the house quickly… and, as I mentioned recently, I feel lonely. For friendships with the locals are still quite sparse. My husband and my child are gone during the day. So what to do when one (unfortunately usually the woman) is in a foreign country, the partner is totally occupied with his job, you yourself have no work permit, and the children finally are well taken care of?

Drink coffee? All day long? That’s what I do on Fridays. I meet with other women who, almost all, have accompanied their scientist-husbands. I call it my support group. Because every time I’m there, I feel so much better afterwards. I get to know other women, all of whom are in a similar situation and have to cope with similar problems, and they all have very interesting stories. Even the mix of cultures is exciting:

Miki comes from Japan, Diana from Italy, Anna comes from Poland, Berit is Norwegian, Sarina is German, Xia originates from China and Yvonne is American.

When Yvonne was a young woman, she lived in Germany and out of this cultural experience grew her life’s work: to support women from abroad in adjusting to the United States. Every Friday at 11, she is at Caffe Strada across from campus and listens, asks questions and gives a few little tips. It may not sound earth shattering, but here I’ve learned that there are compostable plastic cups in America that are made from corn, or where you can park and for how long. This gives me the feeling of understanding American life just a little bit better. (Americans don’t just give up their plastic cups but manufacture more environmentally friendly ones instead… although this is not true for all disposable cups. But that’s another topic.)

My Support Group

My Support Group

And even though it’s a pity that I haven’t hung out yet with more Americans, it is perhaps only natural to feel attracted to those who have a similar or live in a similar situation. Almost all of the women have children or have used the time abroad to have children (which is the only thing mostly left for accompanying spouses to do!). We’re allowed to get irritated about American customs and learn, on top of it, how the same things are handled from China through Poland.

Recently, we even took ​​a small day trip. We went to Sonoma, a town north of the Bay Area that is known for its vineyards . Of course, we also did some wine tasting at a small winery whose founders were two Germans, which you can still see by the name (Gundlach Bunschu).

Here’s a picture of my support group, in no longer completely a sober state (except for the drivers who were nursing, of course!).

Note:   This blog post was translated from German into English by Yvonne Lefort.

The original blog post in German can be found on Ruth’s blog:

http://ruthroyal.blogspot.de/2014/05/meine-selbsthilfegruppe.html

 

Moving Through Transition

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on October 14, 2013 5:02 pm

Tags: Creating A Fulfilling Life in America, Creating a life in America, fulfilling life, International Partner, International Spouses, Transitions, UC Berkeley, Yvonne Lefort

My work as a career consultant and intercultural trainer brings me into contact with many people in career and life transition. At UC Berkeley, where I have been working as a consultant and teaching a course called “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America,” I have met many international spouses and partners going through intercultural, career and life transition.

Some have never lived or even traveled outside their home country, and living far away from friends and family is a daily challenge. Finding a place to live, setting up the apartment, opening a bank account and knowing where to shop or get a good haircut are some of the practical challenges of living in a new place, but there are also psychological challenges. Most people from other countries experience some degree of “culture shock” and loneliness, while others can get paralyzed with fear, depression and anxiety, and not know how to “get out” of what may feel like a big, black hole.

I often refer people to William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Every transition, according to Bridges, begins with an “Ending.” When you move to another country, you experience many endings: an end to your job and to the sense of identity you got from your work, an end to time spent with close friends and family, and an end to being in a culture where you know the norms and can feel safe and comfortable, to name a few. You may go through a period that Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” where you feel lost and confused, unproductive, and not sure who you are anymore. It’s not a comfortable place. But in this period of confusion, there is growth happening as you begin to sort through who you are, what’s important in your life, and what you need to have to feel fulfilled. Your new identity is trying to take shape. Eventually, you will experience a renewed sense of energy as you begin to get new ideas and take action. You have moved through the neutral zone to a new beginning!

I have witnessed this process with the spouses and partners at UC Berkeley with whom I have had the privilege to work. To them and to you, I say, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It may feel scary because you don’t know the culture, your English isn’t perfect and you have an accent, or maybe you’re not used to starting up conversations with strangers. I understand, but don’t let this stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take your inspiration from some of these spouses:

Satu, a spouse from Finland, applied for work authorization but her application was denied. So, she decided to form the “Language Café,” an informal language exchange where people meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice different languages.

Mila from Mexico is a marine biologist. After volunteering at a nature center, she applied for a grant from UC Berkeley and received a sum of money to start a program on sustainable living called “Nature Village.” (http://www.naturevillage.org). She received an award for her work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Ernani from Brazil is a high school physics teacher and musician. Since he couldn’t work on a F-2 visa, he decided to join a band and volunteer at a children’s science museum.

Doro from Germany didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in the U.S. and wanted to meet new people. She started a social group called the “Berkeley Wives” and created a website (http://berkeleywives.jimdo.com), and now she has a membership of almost 300 spouses.

Kathy from Chile is a veterinarian who volunteered at an animal shelter for several months before getting a part-time job as a veterinary assistant.

Kirsty from Australia loves to sew and make her own clothes. She started writing her own blog, “Tea and Rainbows” (http://www.teaandrainbows.com), to show off clothes she has made and talk about sewing techniques, patterns, fabric and anything else crafty.

These are just a few examples of spouses who have created or seized opportunities, taken risks, and stepped outside their comfort zone. You can too.

If you’re a new mother, find a mothers’ club to join where you can meet other moms to share the joys and frustrations of motherhood. Or, start your own new moms group.  

If you’re looking for work, learn the American way of networking and asking for informational interviews, and begin to make contact with people who can help advance you in your career. Take job search classes to learn how to write an American style resume, interview for a job, and “toot your own horn.”

If you are unable to get work authorization, find other ways to make your time in America meaningful and fulfilling. Is there something you’d like to try that you’ve never had the time to do? Is there a class that you could take or certificate that you could get to upgrade your professional skills? Can you think of some ways that you could be of service to others and volunteer your time? Or perhaps you’ve been too busy with your career to just take the time to have fun and relax. Allow yourself to do what makes you feel good and what makes you come alive.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your life in America!

Finding A Job in America: Laura’s Story

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on September 24, 2013 8:53 pm

Tags: Getting a Job in America, International Spouses, Job Search, UC Berkeley

Laura GrauLaura is from Barcelona, Spain and is 37 years old.  She first came to the US with her boyfriend three years ago. When she arrived, she was holding a fellowship that allowed her to work in the communications department at the Advanced Light Source in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL).  After that, she returned to Barcelona for 4 months and decided to come back to Berkeley to do a masters in Project Management. As soon as she finished her masters, her boyfriend and she decided to get married so that she could stay in the US. Her husband is a postdoc at UC Berkeley. 

I interviewed Laura about her job search and how she got her first job in America. Here’s her story.

What was your professional background before you came to the U.S. and how did you conduct your job search here in the San Francisco Bay Area?

In Barcelona, I worked for 6 years as an event manager in a research center and I wanted to further my career in the US. It took me more than half a year to find a position. It was harder than I thought it would be. During that time, besides spending lots of hours every day in front of my computer searching for a position and getting ready for interviews, I took advantage of all the opportunities that are offered here in the Bay Area: English classes, workshops and courses at UC Berkeley, the program English in Action, Berkeley Toastmasters, informational interviews, movie clubs, etc.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

One month ago, I started working at OWASP  (the Open Web Application Security Project) as a Global Event Manager. The OWASP is a worldwide not-for-profit charitable organization focused on improving the security of software. Its mission is to make software security visible so that individuals and organizations worldwide can make informed decisions about true software security risks.  Everyone is free to participate in OWASP and all of its materials are available under a free and open software license.

How did you find this job and how long did it take?  How was looking for a job here different from looking for a job in Spain?

I found this position through LinkedIn, but I also used other resources to search for a position. I regularly checked UC Berkeley Jobs, UCSF careers, Glassdoor, Careerbuilder, Monster, etc.  I subscribed to some career websites so that every day I would receive e-mails advertising positions for event managers.

The first thing I did was to write a resume in “the American way.” I asked for advice from some Americans to make sure it was all right! Apart from that, I wouldn’t say the process would have been different if I had been in Spain. However, for me, the interviewing process was hard. I felt frustrated after every interview I did because I am not a native English speaker and I can’t express myself as I do in my own language.

What was the most difficult interview question you were asked? 

Once I was asked what my communication strategy was in my previous job. To me it is funny how some interviewers use grandiloquent expressions. He just wanted to know how and how often I communicated with my team. Apart from that, the questions are more or less always the same and the more common job interview questions can easily be found on the internet.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

OWASP is a foundation that involves people from all over the world. A couple of months ago they were looking for a Global Event Manager able to organize conferences across the five continents. I don’t know much about selling myself, and actually I don’t like doing it. I know that there are plenty of people out there very well prepared to do what I do, but I also know that I am a very good Event Manager, I have six years experience, and I enjoy doing my job.  I think that was enough for them to see me as a good match for the organization.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

I wish I would have known that it would be such a long process. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated during those months.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.? 

What worked for me was not ever losing hope, and being open-minded about other things I could do while looking for a job. There are plenty of good opportunities out there! It is not only about finding a position, but enjoying the learning process!

 

Getting a Job in America – A UC Berkeley Spouse from Portugal Shares Her Story

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on May 8, 2013 2:53 pm

Tags: American workplace, Berkeley, Getting a Job in America, International Spouses, Job Search

Patricia is an international spouse from Portugal who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. In this interview, Patricia talks about getting a job and describes what it has been like for her to work for an American company.

Briefly describe who you are, where you’re from, why you’re here and for how long, and what your professional background was before you came to the U.S.

I’m Patricia from Portugal and I’ve been living in Berkeley for 1 year and 7 months. Before I lived and worked in Barcelona for a licensing company for over 3 years in the Product Development Department. I decided to move to USA together with my husband when he got the chance to do his post-doc at UC Berkeley. We both thought it was a great opportunity in a great university we couldn’t say no. At the same time it was a tough decision to leave all friends and family behind but when you travel together with someone you love everything is just easier. We initially came for 1 year and decided to take advantage of everything to make this experience very valuable for both of us.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am currently working as Project Marketing Manager at a confectionary company in the Bay Area. I’ve been there for a year and a half and fortunately I can tell this has been a great true to life American experience. I’m essentially responsible for new product development, social media and launch of online campaigns.  Since I’m the only foreigner working at the corporate office, this experience has been a real challenge and is helping me grow as a professional.

How did you find this job and how long did it take? (i.e. What methods did you use to conduct your job search? Which were the most effective? Least effective?)

Even before getting my work permit which took about 2 months, I start looking for jobs. I tried not to be too narrow on my search as I knew I was in disadvantage comparing with an American native. Unfortunately we all know companies try to invest on their employees to keep them as long as possible and for non residents this may be the biggest obstacle. Here we are temporary employees waiting for someone to give us a chance to prove what we professionally capable of. From my experience applying to offers through recruiting agencies was more effective than directly to the companies. Surprisingly it wasn’t me finding the job but the recruiting agency finding my resume online.  It took me over 2 months to find this job. Besides applying for existing offers, I also did spontaneous applications. It is important to adapt your CV to the standard resume. Talking with career centers or even asking American friends/colleagues for advice will help you get your resume done.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

Now I understand how important it is to mention you’re authorized to work in the USA on your resume to keep you on the candidate’s selection, since it’s very unlikely that a company will sponsor a working visa.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

Essentially you have to be honest and try to best communicate your international experience. It took me lot of interviews to gain experience and confidence on myself so I was able to mention the highlights from my previous experiences. It takes time for us to understand how things work so you better go to as many interviews as you can even if they don’t perfectly match with your profile.  Additionally, here interviewees perform in a very different way – you have to be really self confident on your statements. Takes a lot of work even more when you’re not used to act like that but that’s how it works here.  Having worked with other international companies around the world (including USA) had helped me on my application. At the end it wasn’t the first time I was contacting with this market. 

What have you learned about the American workplace from your experience at your job?

Here I found a more organized, responsible and proactive environment when compared with the European companies I’ve worked for. It’s also a very competitive workplace, even internally, which motivates you give your best. There’s no time to stop – time is money! A quick lunch or even a meeting/lunch is quite common and help you keep moving. Also there’s a great sense of punctuality so you better watch the clock.

In order for you to be successful in your organization, what is necessary? (i.e. what qualities/skills does your employer value?)

In my case you need lot of good communication skills to be able to present your proposals and convince your colleagues of a great idea. A lot of planning, proactivity, attention to detail and organization mixed with politeness are also very important skills for my position.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.?

Immediately apply for the work permit and start looking for jobs when you get to USA as it may take longer than expected, post your resume in LinkedIn as well as the different job search websites as Monster or Career Building, let people know you’re actively looking for a job and organize yourself with a daily plan for your job search. If you try hard, one day you’ll make it.

 

 

Volunteering Experience at the Food Bank

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Posted by Yvonne Lefort on April 23, 2013 6:16 pm

Tags: Creating A Fulfilling Life in America, Volunteer, Yvonne Lefort

Food bank

Yvonne, Dx, Zeena, Xiaochen and Claudia had fun bagging huge heads of cabbage!

When I decided to move to America to be next to my husband, one of my priorities was to get involved in many activities ASAP.  That is when I thought of volunteering for community services, and found out that, fortunately, the Bay Area provides a lot of possibilities and organizations specialized in this matter. So when Yvonne Lefort posted on Facebook about a community service opportunity at the Alameda County Food Bank, I did not think about it twice and decided to participate.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank distributes food to thousands of people through nonprofits agencies. Our task was to prepare the vegetables for their distribution. 

Together with other spouses of the “Creating a Fulfilling life in America” program and Yvonne, we met at downtown Berkeley to head towards the food bank in Oakland. I think we all were very excited about this experience.

When we arrived at the location, the first thing we observed was a huge warehouse with aisles of fresh fruit, veggies and non-perishable food. Given the large amount of food in this place, we realized the hard work that the volunteers were doing in this place and that some help was needed.  The work environment was really nice, the people were very friendly, and they also played good music, so everybody was in good mood while working.

The community service is a very rewarding experience because we didn’t just help the needy people, but also we had a good time meeting the volunteers of this organization that provides nutritious food and nutrition education to the people in need. The work of these people is just admirable. I hope to come back sometime soon. 

Claudia

Being a mom in U.S.

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Posted by Vatsala Shrivastava on February 21, 2013 9:31 pm

Tags: Berkeley Mom, Book Club, Yvonne Lefort

I still vividly remember the moment that the doctor said “it’s a girl!” Then I was holding my tiny little baby with very confused feeling of amazement, worry and tiredness (of course I stayed up night and spent 12 exhausted hours of laboring). By the time my mom was on the way flying from Korea, I couldn’t finish my master thesis yet and my husband was scheduling to make a business trip to South Pole for his research in a few months later. The afternoon that I delivered my first baby at hospital in a small town in Pennsylvania, I felt like I am somewhat connected to this country and everything seems so strange to me at the same time.

Susan Ha with her husband and daughter!

Susan Ha with her husband and daughter!

Four years ago, my lovely girl was born in the middle of such a mixed up and I have become a mom. Having a baby was on a totally different page of my life throughout marriage, living in foreign country as well as my own values and identities. I need to start building up my new identity ‘as a mom’ from the beginning like when I had arrived in U. S. first time. It was more challenging than defining just myself, because my baby always needed my help even though I cannot get some help for myself sometimes. My baby was always in the center of my daily living, in my mind and even in my unconscious. The more I spent time to take care of her, the more depressed I became and it seemed forever for me to keep loosing myself. In the mean time, our family moved to berkeley and we started over in a new place.

Whole new environment gave me a refreshing idea and challenges altogether. Finally I have started a book club, tutor students in mathematic with Yvonne’s advice and I make new friends through my daughter’s friends. These days, my 4-year-old girl sings a song “Rudolf the red nosed reindeer” learned from her preschool and she dressed up as a fairy princess on last Halloween’s day. Raising a kid provides me a chance to recall my childhood and to picture of future of child.Then I get to think about objective issues such as human being, life or world.

I still complain about the poor public transportation, expensive education and medical bills, but I know I can have quality family time here and nice memory of traveling, instead. Soon I realize that my life becomes richer and more meaningful as parenting. I am growing together with my kids and I am picturing my family with my second baby who is on the way now.

Susan

A new home away from home!

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Posted by Vatsala Shrivastava on December 6, 2012 11:28 pm

Tags: America, Berkeley, dreams, fulfilling life, J2, Yvonne Lefort

Sole Consoli with her husband Raffaele Saggio

Sole Consoli with her
husband Raffaele Saggio

Living a life experience in the States has always been a dream for both my husband and me. However, when the time comes, it’s hard to say goodbye to people you love. It’s hard to put your life in a bag and leave your previous time behind you. But you do it because you keep hanging on to hope and to that rational part inside of you that says you are going to live a fabulous experience soon. And so it was! At least for me.

I moved to Berkeley almost 6 months ago with a luggage only. I hadn’t a place to live, I hadn’t a place to work, no friends, no points of reference. Nothing. But today I look at myself and I can see that many things have changed. I’ve found an apartment, a job and new friends. I wake up every morning and I’m happy.

Things started to change for me when I realized that I had to stop thinking about my previous life in my country as the only one suitable for me and started to look at the present life in an active and energetic way. I’ve been lucky to find a job very soon. I came into America with a J2 visa and I applied for a work authorization. However, time for bureaucracy at the immigration office is very slow and I’m still waiting for it. But at that time I wanted to look for something anyway. I couldn’t see myself as an accompanying spouse anymore but I wanted to recreate my own routine. So after many weeks of researching, I finally found “the perfect job”. I found this nice and very familiar Italian language school that was looking for teachers. I prepared a resume (in the American style!) and I decided to go to the school to introduce myself. It didn’t take much time to let the headmaster think about it and welcome me in. I was the happiest person in the world. I remember that day printed in my memory as a new beginning of my American life. And so it was. Few weeks later another Italian school contacted me. This time it was an Italian kindergarten located in North Beach, San Francisco. So, I started to work there too, as a part time job.

However, the biggest improvement in my new life wasn’t about my job. It was about my friends. Meeting Yvonne and attending her course for partners and spouses here in Berkeley was amazing. I was able to find new friends to share my experience with, new friends to have fun with and new friends to live fantastic adventures together. Everyday I wake up and I feel blessed for all of that. For this reason I really hope that sharing my experience with the new Berkeley wives could help them to find the hope and the bravery at the beginning of their journey. Because sooner or later we are all able to find ourselves here, creating the so-called “fulfilling life in America”.

Creating a Fulfilling Life Everywhere!

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Posted by Vatsala Shrivastava on November 29, 2012 11:30 pm

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Takako Fukasawa with Kota Fukasawa
in Los Angeles 🙂

My very first memory from childhood is of seeing the Statue of Liberty from a ferry, glorious and divine. I was three years old. My family and I had just moved from Japan to a small suburban town in Connecticut accompanying my father’s job transfer. I suppose we had visited New York City over the weekend. The next four years are full of warm and radiant memories of my friends and their moms, my ESL teachers, our neighbors, of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We were taught bits and pieces of American history at school; of its independence and the gradual assimilation of its immigrants. My family and I encountered charitable considerations at every turn. Within four years, I had perceived U.S. as a country of equality, liberty and hope, exactly what the Statue of Liberty seemed to symbolize. My family and I stayed in the U.S. once again when I was 11 to 13, this time in the suburbs of Chicago. The population was even more diverse, in terms of religion, ethnicity and social class. Sure, there were conflicts and tensions, but there was a place and also hope for everyone.

I always felt an obligation to give something back to society in return for all the welcome that I had received in the U.S. Upon returning to Japan, I noticed that Japanese society was an extremely difficult place for foreign residents to acculturate to. More than anything, it is an extremely homogeneous society (foreign residents only constitute 1.6% of the population). Partially because of this, English education in Japanese schools is extremely bleak and does not enhance fluency, making the society practically monolingual. In addition, traditionally, everyone is expected to think and act the same way, therefore there are many unspoken and unwritten customs. Despite the fact that Japan is a rapidly aging society and desperately in need of younger and talented personnel from outside the country to boost its global presence, the society as a whole does not offer the necessary services and systems to overcome all these difficulties and accommodate foreign residents. I wanted to help develop cross cultural understanding in Japan and construct a support system for foreign residents. Once I entered University, I participated in non-profit activities to support foreign students adjust to Japan during their short-term stays. However, as the years went by, I got caught up in all the trivial but urgent matters that needed tending in order to secure my everyday life and career path in a corporation. During these years of confusion and hectivity, the vision I had once embraced seemed almost unreachable, and had all but diminished.

After 15 years, I was back in the U.S., this time tagging behind my husband. Berkeley was a country of its own. Once again, I was a stranger struggling in a new place, this time with no occupation other than “a housewife”, experiencing cultural and transitional shock. Taking Yvonne’s classes not only steered me towards recovery, but also helped me rediscover my goals and reset my life. Everything is finally beginning to make sense. I realize now that I still want to achieve my long-term goal of building a more foreign resident friendly community in my home country, especially for women and children who have less contact with the society. In the short-term I am preparing myself to become slightly marketable in the intercultural communication field in Japan, by taking training courses for teaching ESL to adults and also for translating. I am also participating in a volunteer consulting project (“pro bono”) for a local non-profit organization, in the hopes of applying my business skills effectively to management of non-profit/social sector programs. And of course, there is much to gain from meeting people from all over the world and hearing wonder things about their cultures. Berkeley is just about the best place to be to meet people with different backgrounds and values!

Finally, I am forever grateful to my friends, mentors, and teachers, both present and past, who have motivated me to create a fulfilling life in America thus far, and I truly hope that someday soon I will see more creations of fulfilling lives across the ocean in my own country.

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